Revival Prayer Calls Not Only for Intercession, But Action
As a prelude to a recent Concert of Prayer rally in Chicago, a much-loved African-American pastor from the city stepped up to the microphone. His assignment: to guide us in a season of prayer for the nations.
He asked us to follow a pattern often used in the Black church, responding to each point of his prayer with the phrase ‘Here am I, Lord. Send me!’ (See Is. 6:8.) First, he prayed over topics related to ministry with one another, reconciliation, caring for the poor, and reaching our neighbors. To each brief prayer, 3,000 of us enthusiastically chanted in unison: ‘Here am I, Lord. Send me!’ But then, he moved on to the more difficult dimensions of Christ’s mission in our generation: the persecuted church, extreme social conflict and violence, castes and tribes in which ‘gross darkness’ resides, and the battle for life itself. At the end of these petitions he paused, and with increasing hesitation, we prayed back, ‘Here am I (gulp). Send me.’
This pastor understood something profound about praying for world evangelism: It is not only intercession; it is also mobilization. Open doors must be matched by open hearts (ours) and open skies (God’s). Breakthroughs among the nations must be matched by ‘breakouts,’ that is, giving up our small ambitions to become an answer to our own prayers. A worldwide awakening to Christ requires awakening within the church first. The Spirit must be poured out on us, in order for us to adequately pour out our lives for the lost. And often, the prime candidates for the mobilization that comes out of prayer are the very ones who did the praying!
A year ago September, I addressed two national missions conferences that placed heavy emphasis on missions mobilization. The first, sponsored by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), was titled ‘The Urgent Challenge for the 21st Century.’ The second brought together executives from the nearly 100 member organizations of the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies (EFMA) for ‘God’s Power: Concerted Prayer for Wide-scale Revival.’ Both recognized the desperate need for spiritual mobilization in world evangelization. In preparation for the EFMA conference, years of focus group research were published in a book called Choosing a Future for U.S. Missions. I quote from that book:
The U.S. mission community is at a crossroads. Reputable and deeply committed leaders admit changes must come in our approach to mission. But all the signals indicate few are willing to make significant changes. Are we so consumed by mere survival in the present that the future does not even come up on our screen . . . It is our prayer that God will move across our land. Even as Ezekiel witnessed a miracle in the valley of dry bones, may the drying bones of our mission structures come alive and be joined to the sinew and flesh of a new body dedicated to the establishment of Christ’s rule, extending throughout all the earth.
That’s a cry for ‘open skies’ to prevail upon ‘open hearts’ to move through ‘open doors.’ One missions executive who worked on the EFMA report told me, ‘If we don’t see revival in the next decade, the North American missions movement, as we know it, will be finished.’ Why? Because the attrition rate over the next 10 years (due primarily to retirements) is outstripping the recruitment rate.
Time is short. Our prayers must focus on this shortfall. Of course, we should continue to pray for the nations. Prayer initiatives and other spiritual warfare activities are vital. Prayerwalking the streets of the earth’s cities should become a way of life. But let us not forget that in Matthew 9, when Jesus looked upon the helpless, hopeless multitudes, His primary request was for laborers’ suggesting that we ask the ‘Lord of the harvest’ to ‘throw them out’ (a literal translation) into the midst of the multitudes. Now that’s spiritual mobilization!
At a recent annual luncheon for top U.S. mission leaders, I challenged those present to train every furloughing missionary or new missionary as a ‘revivalist.’ I said, essentially, this: Train your missionaries to carry a two-part portfolio, as Paul did. Have them talk about the needs and opportunities of their mission. But also have them call for a God-given spiritual mobilization of all believers. Begin where the audience is ‘in prayer, seeking God together for a visitation of the Spirit that will consume their lives with Christ and His global cause. Then, before bidding farewell, encourage a prayer vision that addresses the full spectrum of revival and missions.
Isn’t this kind of mobilization our greatest hope for reaching nearly two billion people. We need to take a hint from the Black church. At the end of every missionary prayer, let’s declare with an open heart to the open skies: ‘Here am I. Send me.’ As God answers, open doors will be waiting.